Upon further inspection, he and his colleagues concluded that the tick was a nymph, similar in size to a deer tick nymph, and that its host was most likely some sort of fledgling dinosaur no bigger than a hummingbird, which Dr. Grimaldi referred to as a “nanoraptor.” The parasites were most likely unwanted roommates living in the dinosaurs’ nests and sucking their blood.
“These nanoraptors were living in trees and fell into these great big blobs of oozing resin and were snagged,” he said. Trapped too were the ticks. “We’re looking at a microcosm here of life in the trees 100-million years ago in northern Myanmar.”
They determined that the host was a nonavian dinosaur and not a modern bird based on molecular dating, which suggested the specimen was at least 25 million years older than modern birds.
The team also reported finding a few more ticks in amber, including two that were covered in microscopic hairs belonging to a beetle. The team traced the origins of the beetle hair to a particular type of insect known as a skin beetle, which today lives in nests and scavenges on molted feathers as well as shedded skin and hair. In prehistoric times they most likely bothered dinosaurs in their nests.
The beetle hair suggested that the ticks lived in the same nests as the skin beetles. It provided indirect evidence that the prehistoric ticks infested dinosaurs, according to Ricardo Pérez-de la Fuente a paleobiologist at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and an author on the paper.
They also found one tick that was engorged with blood, making it about eight times larger than its normal size. Dr. Pérez-de la Fuente said it was impossible to determine the host animal for that tick, and alas, he added there was no chance they could perform any Jurassic Park shenanigans by extracting its stolen blood.